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Patterson v. Cochran

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 3, 2017

SAM COCHRAN, as Sheriff of Mobile County, Alabama Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and brief in support (Docs. 37, 38, 39), Plaintiff's Response (Doc. 43) and Defendant's Reply (Docs. 48, 49). For the reasons detailed below, the motion is due to be granted.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Kelvin Patterson (“Patterson”), an African-American male, first began working at the Baldwin County, Alabama Sheriff's Office in February 1995 as a deputy. (Doc. 44-1, ¶ 3). In November 2004, he received a promotion to the rank of corporal. Id. In the intervening thirteen or so years, Patterson has worked on patrol, in support services in the civil division, and in “intel.” (Doc. 39-1, p. 4). The Mobile County Sheriff's Office conducts annual service ratings reports for its officers. The officer receives a ranking from (1) to (4) at the following levels: (1) exceptional job performance, (2) high quality job performance, (3) satisfactory job performance, or (4) unsatisfactory job performance. (See, e.g., Doc. 39-1, p. 24). In November 2014, Patterson received a rating of “(3) satisfactory job performance” from his supervisor. Id. Patterson received verbal coaching on improving his decision-making skills. Id. at p. 9. Patterson received the same rating in both November 2013 and 2015. Id. at pp. 10, 23.

         In his complaint, Patterson alleges he was passed over for a promotion to sergeant between December 2015 and February 2017 based on race discrimination and in retaliation for his protected activity. (See generally Docs. 1, 18).

         A. Disciplinary Reprimands

         In 2014, Lieutenant Chris Evans, a Caucasian male, became Patterson's line supervisor. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Patterson alleges Lt. Evans harassed him by singling him out, due to his race, over the course of his assignment in his unit. (See generally Doc. 1; Doc. 18; Doc. 23). In August 2015, Lt. Evans initiated an internal reprimand against Patterson for “failure to follow orders.” (See Doc. 39-1, p. 29). The events leading up to this internal disciplinary action concerned a crime report from August 15, 2015, in which Lt. Evans ordered Patterson “to send a couple of cars [to the scene]” and to take necessary action of issuing warrant slips and/or arresting the individuals in question. (Doc. 39-5, p. 3). Patterson did not send the units to respond as directed and admitted he “‘failed to follow the crime report properly.'” Id. Lt. Evans thus concluded:

By his own admission, I find that Corporal Kelvin Patterson failed to follow policy for the Crime Reports by not sending units to check on the situation and by failing to report back via email on the findings.
By his own admission, I also find Corporal Patterson failed to follow my verbal direct order to send units to the address and assess the situation.

Id. at p. 4. Lt. Evans recommended Patterson “receive a ‘Counseling Statement' for failure to follow policy and verbal orders.” Id. Captain Frank Cassidy initially concurred in the recommendation, but upon Chief Deputy David Wilhelm's inquiry as to “Patterson's reason(s) for his failure to obey a direct order, ” Cpt. Cassidy obtained an updated report from Lt. Evans. Id. at pp. 3, 6). After the updated report, Cpt. Cassidy concurred with the findings but recommended Patterson receive a “LOR” or Letter of Reprimand, a more severe disciplinary action. Id. at p. 4. On September 14, 2015, Defendant Sheriff Sam Cochran issued a letter to Patterson to “serve[] as an official reprimand for your actions on August 15, 2015 as it related to your failure to follow orders given by Lieutenant Chris Evans.” (Doc. 39-1, p. 29). Patterson received notice of the LOR on September 21, 2015. Id. at p. 30.

         On August 26, 2016, Patterson received a second LOR for “attempting to serve a warrant that was no longer active.” (Doc. 39-5, p. 10). Lieutenant Roderick Bonner submitted the initial write-up of the offense, and Sheriff Cochran concurred in Lt. Bonner's recommendation for a LOR. Id. at p. 15. Patterson fully admitted he “did not verify if [the warrant] was still active- [he] only assumed it still was.” Id. at p. 19.

         B. Patterson's Internal Grievance

         On September 21, 2015, Patterson filed an internal grievance against Lt. Evans to Cpt. Cassidy. (Doc. 39-1, p. 28). He claimed Lt. Evans “has continually called me into his office for minimal offenses at the worst and made this a hostile work environment for me.” Id. He further stated, “Lt. Evans is known to have issues with black supervisors[.]” Id. He also alleged his LOR from September 2015 was illegitimate: “Lt. Evans pursued an insubordination reprimand on me which was totally unfair because insubordination is a willful neglect of a direct order which wasn't the case involving a crime report.” Id.

         Cpt. Cassidy conducted an investigation into Patterson's claims that Lt. Evan's reprimand was racially motivated. (Doc. 39-1, p. 11). Cpt. Cassidy spoke with both Patterson and Lt. Evans, collected documentation, and removed Patterson from Lt. Evans's direct supervision. Id. at pp. 11-13, 31. After the investigation, the Sheriff's Office concluded “the complaint [was] unfounded” and advised Patterson of his right to appeal to the Personnel Board. Id. at p. 31. Patterson appealed, instead, directly to Sheriff Cochran in a “face-to-face meeting” in late October 2015. Id. at p. 14, 16. In that meeting, Patterson alleges Sheriff Cochran assured him the September 2015 LOR would not “affect any promotional opportunity” in the Sheriff's Office. Id. at p. 15.

         C. Patterson's EEOC Filings

         After receiving the Sheriff's Office's decision on his internal grievance against Lt. Evans, Patterson filed an EEOC charge of discrimination (no. 425-2015-01185) on October 1, 2015.[1] (Doc. 39-1, p. 33). In the charge, he alleged he received the LOR “because [he is] Black.” Id. After not receiving a promotion to sergeant, see infra, Patterson filed a second EEOC charge (no. 425-2016-00216) alleging retaliation for his first EEOC charge. (Doc. 39-4, p. 2).

         The EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights to the first charge on October 16, 2015. (Doc. 1, p. 12). Patterson filed his initial complaint on January 12, 2016, within the ninety-day deadline. (Doc. 1). Patterson alleges the second charge was also dismissed. (Doc. 18, ¶ 10).

         D. The ...

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